John Gottman is an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and he has done some fascinating research into the factors that lead to divorce. Through four main predictors of divorce, he can predict whether or not a couple will divorce with ninety-three percent accuracy. (Talk about an intimidating person to invite over for dinner!)
According to Dr. Gottman, the number-one predictor of divorce is a critical tone, directed from one spouse to another. It’s not the occasional complaint or conflict, but a nonstop tone of negativity.
What does that look like? It might include these things: sarcasm, nit-picking, nagging, hateful language, cutting each other down, saying hurtful things, and the constant retrieval of painful issues from the past.
What we say has powerful implications on our relationships. The biblical writers had some strong things to say about the tongue. Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death.” James 3:6 says “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person… and is itself set on fire by hell.”
What we say has a mighty effect on those around us. All of us place great stock in words. Men want to be admired and appreciated, and words help communicate those things. Women have a need for open, honest, and loving communication. Those things are nourished by the words of their husbands.
A happy, healthy marriage is characterized by positive words. They give life. Likewise, negativity and criticism are almost always evident in a bad marriage. They bring death. Like James wrote, they are “a world of evil.”
Does that mean we should never complain about anything? Not necessarily. A gentle, helpful complaint can be an excellent corrective. It tells your spouse that you care, and it can strengthen your relationship. But such complaints need to be infrequent and delivered with care.
For instance, “Honey, I’m committed to our marriage, but I just need to say this: It really bothers me when you…” That’s easier to hear, isn’t it? Such a statement can lead to positive change. But a constant barrage of complaints, day in and day out, rarely helps. Most often, it hurts. It hurts individually, and it hurts the marriage.
Approach your husband or wife today with positive words. Plant good seeds, and you’ll see good fruit result.